The January movie dead zone doesn’t appear so dead. Night Swim‘s already made its budget back, Mean Girls is getting a mostly positive reception, and movies like Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and Anything But You are gaining new box office legs. It’s an uncommonly decent January, so it really shouldn’t be a surprise that something like The Beekeeper is exceeding critical expectations.
The Jason Statham action movie, directed by David Ayer (Fury, Suicide Squad) and written by Kurt Wimmer (Ultraviolet, Equilibrium) looks like a run-of-the-mill rip-off of John Wick. And it kind of is. When done correctly, though, that’s hardly a crime, and The Beekeeper delivers exactly what the doctor ordered.
Committed personnel sell some really silly material with po-faced determination; while the likes of Josh Hutcherson and Jeremy Irons throw in enough self-awareness to keep the proceedings light. It may not be(e) a game changer, but the base charms of The Beekeeper are pure honey. Why does this film succeed where other attempts at starting an action franchise fail? Read on to find out!
Kurt Wimmer pens pulp excellence with The Beekeeper
The Beekeeper stars Jason Statham as, what else, a beekeeper named Adam Clay. He spends his day in solitude, save for looking out for his elderly neighbor Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad). When Eloise falls victim to a phishing scam that drains all the money out of her accounts, she ends her own life. In a rage, Clay decides to take down the corporation that led her to ruin. After all, he’s not just a beekeeper, he’s the beekeeper, a retired member of a clandestine outfit operating from outside the law to “protective the hive” of the free world through any means necessary.
As his reign of vengeance follows, the leader of the phishing scam, tech-bro Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson), and his handler Wallace Westwyld (Jeremy Irons) try to slow his progress. Meanwhile, Eloise’s daughter/FBI Agent Verona Parker (Emmy Raver-Lampman) seeks to make sense of the ensuing violence.
No question, The Beekeeper has its revenge narrative down pat. Jason Statham’s character maneuvers through the plot with great momentum. Director David Ayer keeps the pace unusually well, given his track record of movies with a choppy structure. There’s always an exciting beat down or progression of The Beekeeper’s mission around the corner.
Moreover, writer Kurt Wimmer, a man who practically established close quarters gun fighting, or gun kata, in American cinema with his writer/directorial effort Equilibrium, takes from the John Wick playbook like a seasoned genre pro. The inciting incident (Eloise’s death) is simple and effective. There’s a clear path for Adam Clay to exact his fury. Wimmer and Ayer clear the path.
While a lot of films aping the resurgence in revenge action stories due to John Wick miss this, The Beekeeper knows to build a world around the violence. The Beekeeper lore itself is vague, though enticing enough to leave you wanting to know more. We only see one another Beekeeper in action mid-way through the film, and that alone gives a hint to a wacky, almost cyberpunk-y underbelly that makes you give a curious “huh” when you start to piece it together for yourself.
The villains of the movie just as well seem to have more interiority than what they’re traditionally given. Irons‘ character’s background in the CIA, Hutcherson‘s innovation in the face of people’s lives, and both of their conspiratorial connection to another adversary in the film expand the plot outwards.
There’s almost a hint of social commentary, of the tech world, of not trusting the powers that be, what have you. The movie, more often than not, uses that as window dressing. That’s hardly a problem; if anything it harkens back to exploitation action films that would mine the struggles of the present for audience engagement. Though not in a cynical way. Ground it in something resembling reality, the audience will go along with it.
Jason Statham and Josh Hutcherson commit
As The Beekeeper, Jason Statham kicks some serious ass. Not treading new territory, his principled man of action has the look of gears turning behind his head. He can sleepwalk through these kinds of roles and chooses to still give it his all in what could be a franchise character.
Seeing Statham, someone’s who has ground away in the action genre for so long, continue to treat this sort of role with the same tenacity as ever, sells the whole enterprise. Josh Hutcherson, likewise, goes all-out wacky in his role, making for a very memorable scenery chewing villain. Online, and at the box office, Hutcherson‘s long-standing talent as a character actor is getting recognized, and it’s glorious.
Jeremy Irons brings his signature droll wit, lending an artificial (though still kind of effective) gravitas to the gonzo revenge tale. Who really took me, though, is relative newcomer Emmy Raver-Lampman (The Umbrella Academy). Her performance is as sharp as her character, a no-nonsense wrecking ball of her own. Raver-Lampman‘s intensity, and half-drunken deadpan swagger in some scenes, accomplishes something truly difficult: making the police procedural aspect of the story as interesting as the clandestine hitman.
The Beekeeper features action befitting its protagonist
Any movie of this ilk worth its salt knows that it lives or dies on its action sequences. The Beekeeper‘s got ’em, and they surely pack a punch. Rather than the clear camerawork and precision of John Wick, David Ayer opts for a handheld, fast-editing style to the fights. Sometimes, this can kill an action movie if not deployed efficiently. Thanks to an unusually keen eye from Ayer, cinematographer Gabriel Beristain (Blade II), and editor Geoffrey O’Brien, the scenes match its title character. The takedowns conducted by the lead are ruthless affairs, wherein The Beekeeper will use any blunt object at his disposal to make a bloody pulp out of whoever he’s dispatching.
Now, this may not lead to as many clip-worthy moments as some of its competitors, but it’s utterly befitting of the film. A good amount of the fights set against neon tech backdrops of the phishing scam offices, making a striking tableau of an outsider wrecking the evils of the modern world. On a first go with a new character like this, it’s most important to establish what they’re all about, and The Beekeeper does this with white-knuckle, gritted teeth brawls.
The Beekeeper knows what it is and what it’s about. Do we need another movie about a hitman with a vague backstory? Not really. But due to the efforts of Statham, Wimmer, Ayer, and great supporting performances wrapped up in a honey-sweet package of brutal violence, it’s a much welcome addition to the subgenre.
The Beekeeper is now playing in theaters! Are you planning to watch this one? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or on The Cosmic Circus Discord.